Predators, sexual harassment, and assault are a danger to our kids both inside and outside of Hollywood. And as uncomfortable as this is to address, ignoring it endangers our kids even more.
This past season has been intense—both hard and hopeful. Our society seems to be reaching a kind of tipping point: enough people are stepping forward to share their stories of abuse that they are creating a space where many others can also feel safe enough to step forward. It feels like an avalanche of revelations. Still, for every person who finally speaks up, many more will remain silent.
And it’s not just women and girls coming forward (or not coming forward). The abuse of boys and young men may be less talked about, but it is just as real and just as scarring.
These are times that can make parents feel frantic. Every time we hear another story we wonder, “How can I keep my kids safe? Is it even possible?”
And those of us who have supported our kids in their dreams of acting, who are either actually in Hollywood or on the path there, wonder if we are crazy and irresponsible to let our kids enter what can look like some kind of lion’s den.
I want to say a few things that I hope will help give us a way to hold all this, and a firm place to stand moving forward.
First of all—Hollywood is a reflection of our society at large. There have always been a small percentage of people with power—and in positions of trust—who have felt free, even entitled, to abuse that power in ways that harm those in a less powerful position. And they have felt free because there have traditionally been zero consequences.
The shame and emotional damage that can come from sexual harassment and assault of all kinds help to keep the conspiracy of silence in place. The predators count on this. The consequences to victims of speaking out are real, and can be just as damaging as the original trauma. It’s no wonder that victims traditionally choose to stay silent.
Unfortunately, the silence allows the abuse to continue.
At this watershed moment in Hollywood, a light is being shone on some of this darkness, illuminating it for the world to see. It’s heartbreaking, and yet I see reasons for hope.
Hollywood at its core is our cultural bellwether. It’s not only a reflection of society, but also a leader of its direction, for better or for worse. That Hollywood actors and actresses are leading the way for cultural change by speaking out should not be too surprising—they have a platform that most other victims do not have. When more marginalized voices have spoken, they have been easier to silence. It’s harder to silence victims who have millions of followers.
And yet Hollywood is no different than any other part of our society. These abuses exist everywhere—because people in positions of power and/or trust are everywhere: teachers, coaches, bosses, babysitters, and family friends. Even family. A small percentage of these people feel entitled to use that power to their advantage, regardless of the consequences to their victims.
So… it’s not really a comfort that Hollywood is no different than the rest of society, but it is important to remember, especially for parents of young actors.What we need to do to protect our kids, we need to do wherever our kids are, whether they are in Hollywood or not. Click To Tweet
Many of the actions we can take to protect our kids are both inoculations against their becoming victims, but also against their becoming perpetrators. Understanding what is OK and not OK goes both ways.
First of all, it’s never too early (or too late) to develop a relationship with your kids where they feel safe coming to you with concerns. They need to trust that you will believe them and protect them.
“The child-guardian relationship is key, particularly in sensitive situations,” says Aimee Zakrewski Clark, Marriage and Family Therapist, “when this is strong, the child listens, digests, and then follows through with the information and guidance the parent shares with them – including coming to them when they feel concerned and, especially, when something has actually happened.”
Some of what you will share with your child is subtle: for example, watch what you say about victims. Our culture tends to blame the victim in cases of assault, and if you perpetuate this with casual remarks, your kids can internalize the message that if something happens, it’s their fault. Victim blaming is pervasive (note the inevitable interest in what a victim was wearing for example).
We might like to think that we can protect ourselves by dressing conservatively, but it’s been shown that sexual harassment and assault are not caused by clothing choices. They are caused by a sense of entitlement and a disregard for the feelings of others.
Just as dressing “provocatively” is not an invitation for assault, dressing conservatively is not protection. It’s not about the clothes.
Secondly, teach your kids about boundaries. About what is OK and not OK in terms of language, touching, etc. You can do this in an age-appropriate way. Many predators begin with language that crosses the line, as they groom their victims, to see if they can get away with pushing boundaries that they can easily deny or back away from, before they go further. Inappropriate language is a red flag for what may follow.
Thirdly, you can be vigilant. In California, SAG-AFTRA union law says that parents of minors must be within sight and sound of their kids when on set. This is because the law recognizes that this is the best way for kids to stay safe. No one can protect them better than you, and if you can see and hear them, that alone will keep predators at bay.
Fourthly, you can use your brain and your gut—be careful not to be so flattered by someone in power taking an interest in your kid that your judgment slips, and you ignore warning signs, or give them access to your kid that you would not under other circumstances.
This is not a uniquely Hollywood problem—it can exist anywhere a vulnerable young person crosses paths with a person with more power who decides they can take advantage of the power imbalance. The news brings us daily reminders that not only producers, directors, managers and other actors can be predators—but coaches, teachers, bosses, and even trusted friends and family can be abusers as well.
Finally, remember—and remind not only yourself but also your kids—that MOST people are not predators. Most people, of all genders, are good people. The world is no more dangerous today than it was earlier—we are just seeing it more clearly, and as we do, the consequences for abuse will catch up to the abusers. As high-profile predators lose their power and careers in front of millions, the entire culture will begin to change for good.
I feel hopeful that the light just beginning to shine on this dark part of our culture will lead ultimately to a world that is safer for everyone. An important part of transforming society includes all of us speaking up when we see something wrong, and not perpetuating a toxic culture with our silence.
Ultimately, what will be necessary to create lasting change that protects all of us, in and out of the entertainment industry, is to “go upstream” and fix the cause:
- To teach our young people that no one is an object that others are entitled to touch or harass verbally;
- That it is never OK to engage in non-consensual sexual behavior;
- That no really does mean no;
- That words and actions that are disrespectful or that disregard the emotional or physical integrity of another person are unacceptable;
- That it’s important to speak up when you see or hear disrespectful or coercive behavior.
Kids who learn these lessons when they’re young will grow up to be adults who are both less vulnerable to abuse, and less likely to be abusers.
All of these solutions are based on the premise that every human being is worthy of respect, and no one is more or less worthy. If disrespect is learned at home, so is respect. Our kids take these lessons out into the world. The healthier our family culture, the healthier our neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces will be.
“I like to think that what’s happening now is creating new, healthier conversation in the home,” adds Clark.
And I like to think that the conversations happening now also might create new opportunities for leadership. One of the duties of people in role model positions is to step up and be an example of healthy behavior. This means examining where we might be part of the problem, and looking for where we could be part of the solution. Looked at this way, we are all potentially role models and leaders, capable of both protecting and inspiring others.
Meanwhile, let’s do what we can to protect ALL our kids—inside and outside of Hollywood– and give them the tools to ultimately protect themselves as they become independent. The change in the culture starts with us.
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